Assemble the troops and attack your content production needs strategically.
For content managers and editors, working with a pool of freelance writers is often an essential part of the job. And while managing freelancers presents challenges when it comes to coordination and communication, it also presents opportunities for flexibility and experimentation not always afforded by an in-house team.
Considering amping up the publishing cadence of your company blog, for example? Onboarding freelance writers to pick up the slack requires less buy-in from superiors than would be required to hire an additional full-time staffer (and comes with less risk if the new editorial strategy doesn’t pan out as planned).
Whether you’re interested in the creative potential of a freelance writing staff or are simply looking to outsource the responsibilities of an overburdened in-house team, consider these six tips to seamlessly manage your freelance content writers.
1. Create a process to streamline onboarding, and make it standard practice.
It took me several months of managing freelance writers to recognize and address the timesuck associated with bringing new freelancers up to speed. With each new writer, I would spend a laborious 45-minute phone call explaining the ins and outs of our platforms and processes — information that, while useful, would generally be forgotten instantly without the context of having actually used these tools.
Realizing how much time I was wasting, I put together a guide that walks our freelance writers through platforms like Trello and Harvest and provides links to helpful resources like our in-house guide to writing social posts. Now, the 45-minute phone call can be eschewed in favor of an efficient email, and all of the vital information is available for reference in one handy spot.
In other words: keep it simple and don’t reinvent the wheel with every new freelance writer. Create a framework that’s effective, and stick with it.
2. Plan ahead — way ahead!
To make a freelance content operation work, you have to see the future. It’s ok if you don’t have a crystal ball — all you need is a high level of organization and a realistic approach to turnaround times and deadlines.
When your content is produced in-house, time is on your side: you can approach your writers anytime during office hours, give them a high priority project, and check in on them regularly until it’s completed. With freelancers, you do not have as much ownership of their time: they may have another full-time job or other projects with competing deadlines, and be unable to turn around a last-minute article within hours.
That’s why it’s essential to plan your content needs well in advance, setting aggressive but realistic deadlines that allow some wiggle room. Don’t set the due date for the day you want to publish the article; rather, set it a week before, leaving plenty of time for any unforeseen delays.
3. Create an open channel of communication.
It can be lonely out there for a freelance writer — so do everything in your power to combat that sense of isolation by providing opportunities for regular feedback and communication.
The main forum for communication between our writers and content managers takes the form of a short, 15-minute weekly phone call, during which we walk the writer through their assignments for the coming week and provide information on any new clients they may be writing for.
Our freelance writers are also active on our office slack channel, where they can ping us with questions about commissions, due dates, or other pertinent issues that come up during the week. Likewise, this provides an opportunity for editors to provide feedback, sending through notes and edited drafts for the writer to review.
4. Offer opportunities for professional development.
While they may be out of sight, don’t put them out of mind: remote workers are often just as eager to level up and take advantage of opportunities for professional enrichment as your full-time employees.
So give the people what they want! Create a weekly writer workshop that focuses on common editorial pain points, or put together a folder of helpful, easily accessible resources. If your writers are on Slack, create a channel in which you can share general client feedback and high-level insights that will help them hone their skills.
5. Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Okay, maybe you have limited resources when it comes to your writer payroll — but do everything in your power to entice your freelance employees to stick around for the long haul. Something as simple as recognizing a writer of the month and offering a small bonus for a job well done can do wonders for morale by making your writers feel like a valued part of the team.
You can also create longer-term incentives, such as the promise of a raise after a designated period of time (during which the writer consistently hits due dates for assignments and delivers high-quality work, of course). If you don’t have the budget to offer raises, propose alternatives: for example, the opportunity to work on larger creative projects or with more interesting clients.
6. Keep the pipeline flowing.
In a perfect world, your freelance writers would feel so fulfilled by their work with your company that they’d never seek out other opportunities. In reality, freelance writers may not be as committed to working for you long-term as you’d like them to be— so make sure that you don’t put all your eggs in one proverbial basket.
Maintain a perennial job posting for freelance content creators, and keep a few promising resumes on hand. If you find that you’re suddenly short-staffed and strapped for talent, you’ll have a pool of qualified candidates at the ready.